Part 3—Restoring Michael Brown: We’re sorry, but no, Virginia:
No one went on CNN last week and “surreptitiously blamed [Walter Scott] for his own death.”
No one “falsely equated” Scott’s behavior in running away from Officer Slager with Slager’s conduct in shooting Scott in the back. No one actually said that.
When Charles Blow said that unnamed people were saying those things on cable last week, it made for a fabulous column, a piece from the hard tribal mold.
But no one actually said those things! Blow imagined that those things were said, or he may have just made his claim up.
Whatever! Blow produced the perfect column—a column in which Those People were saying horrific things. Of course, it’s easy to write the perfect column when you work in paraphrase—when you don’t name the people you’re assailing or quote what they actually said.
When a columnist plays that game, he can pleasingly invent the latest perfect example. In a trope which dates to prehistory, Blow’s column had his unnamed pundits “reveal[ing] a deficiency in their own humanity,” the way Those People always do when we make our examples up.
Thrilled by Blow’s moral greatness, we liberals cheered in comments. Unfortunately, other voters are able to see how dumb this process is.
Also, how dishonest.
More and more, our emerging “liberal” world seems to turn on these perfect examples. We invent statements and events which illustrate our deepest beliefs about the world. In order to make our examples perfect, we paraphrase wildly or push bogus facts. We make other facts disappear.
Recently, our perfect examples have tended to fall apart:
Rolling Stone came up with a perfect example. It fell apart within days.
Ferguson was a perfect example. In that case, the perfect story we wanted to tell fell apart more slowly.
Finally, the Justice Department seemed to say that the shooting of Michael Brown had been fully justified. We can’t say if their judgment was sound. But after reviewing all the evidence and speaking to all the witnesses, that’s what Justice said.
Unless you read the New York Times editorial page. Unless you read Gene Robinson.
Last week’s shooting of Walter Scott really does look like a perfect example of police misconduct. When the videotape emerged, we saw a fleeing man get shot in the back by a policeman.
Ironically, this videotape showed the behavior we had been promised in the case of Michael Brown. Initially, we were told that hehad been shot in the back. This claim made his death a perfect example, but it turned out to be untrue.
Whatever you think of the shooting death of Michael Brown, it pretty much fell apart as a perfect example of heinous police misconduct. But how odd! In the aftermath of the shooting of Scott, the shooting of Brown was restored!
In a strange New York Times editorial, it almost seemed like that Justice Department report never happened. This is the way the editors started, headline included:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (4/9/15): The Walter Scott MurderStrange! From that brave account, a person might think that the shooting of Brown helped us see that “poorly trained and poorly supervised officers often use deadly force unnecessarily, particularly against minority citizens” and that “police get away with unjustly maiming or killing people by lying about the circumstances that prompted them to use force.”
The horrifying video of a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., shooting and killing an unarmed black man—while the man is running away—may still come as a shock to many Americans. But this heinous act, which the officer tried to explain away by claiming that he feared for his life, strikes a familiar chord in communities of color all across the United States.
The case underscores two problems that have become increasingly clear since the civic discord that erupted last year after the police killed black citizens in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. The first, most pressing problem is that poorly trained and poorly supervised officers often use deadly force unnecessarily, particularly against minority citizens. The second is that the police get away with unjustly maiming or killing people by lying about the circumstances that prompted them to use force.
As usual, King Rosenthal seemed to be tugging his nether regions as he preened and postured. Based upon that peculiar account, a reader would have no idea what the Justice Department had said about that case, or that the Justice Department had spoken at all.
The Justice Department did describe apparent lying in its report. But the apparent lying was done by alleged eyewitnesses to the shooting, not by the policeman in question.
Beyond that, the Justice Department directly said that Officer Darren Wilson’s use of force was justified in that unfortunate case. The editorial board of the Times doesn’t seem to have heard.
As our emerging liberal culture unfolds, we seem to be adopting a lofty principle: No perfect example left behind! As often occurs at the New York Times, some letters on that very same page followed the board’s lead.
None of the letters named Michael Brown, but the first letter may have evoked him for some readers, especially those who had just read the editorial two columns over.
One of the letters even brought Professor Gates back from 2009! No perfect example left behind!
That editorial struck us as strange, leaning toward baldly dishonest. The next morning, Gene Robinson outdid the Times editors in his column for the Washington Post.
Robinson seemed to have no idea what the Justice Department had said. In his column, he too seemed to restore Michel Brown to the role of perfect victim.
Robinson maintained this posture right from the start of his piece. We think his opening paragraph provides a good learning experience for liberals:
ROBINSON (4/10/15): You thought, perhaps, that we were making this stuff up? That the whole “Black Lives Matter” thing was probably overblown? That the idea of African American men having to fear routine encounters with the police was being exaggerated by self-serving activists?We think that was a strange way to start. We’ll address ourselves to Robinson, and to other liberals:
Let’s go to the video [of the shooting of Walter Scott].
Have some people “thought, perhaps, that we were making this stuff up?”
Actually yes, they have thought that! All across the United States, many people decided, not without cause, that Rolling Stone was “making stuff up” when they published and pimped their UVA perfect example.
Other people have decided that we liberals were “making stuff up” when we said that Michael Brown was shot in the back. When we later said that he was shot with his hands up, attempting to surrender.
Actually, yes! In these and other high-profile cases, quite a few people have come to believe that “we were making this stuff up.” A fair-minded person would have to say that these people have cause to think such things—and that they were given further cause when they read that column by Blow.
This is a problem for liberals! More and more, American voters are rolling their eyes at our phony perfect examples. Many folk will react the same way to last Friday’s column by Robinson.
All through the column, Robinson adopts the same pose adopted by the New York Times editors. He seems to think the shooting of Michael Brown is still in play as a perfect example of police misconduct directed at minorities. He shows no sign of having heard what the Justice Department has said.
The most striking example of this framework comes in the second half of his column. Earlier, though, he offers this strange rumination as he describes the shooting of Walter Scott:
ROBINSON: Imagine the narrative that might have emerged if the bystander, a man named Feidin Santana, hadn’t happened along. “A violent suspect struggled with Officer Slager, wrested control of the officer’s Taser and threatened him with it. Fearful of his own safety and that of the community, Slager had no choice but to fire. The officer regrets the loss of Mr. Scott’s life but did what he had to do.”That passage strikes us as strange.
After Ferguson, such an account might not have been taken at face value—especially, I should note, in South Carolina, which has been much more aggressive in holding police officers accountable for fatal shootings. The most basic forensic examination would have shown that Scott was some distance from Slager—and fleeing—when he was shot. Investigators from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division likely would have been skeptical of any claim that the officer feared for his life.
In that passage, Robinson seems to think that Ferguson was a case in which a policeman’s account of a shooting was found to be bogus.
“After Ferguson,” an officer’s claim of innocence “might not have been taken at face value,” Robinson strangely says. This seems to suggest that Ferguson showed that police officers in shooting incidents might lie about what happened.
In fact, the Justice Department supported Officer Wilson’s account of the facts. Robinson doesn’t seem to have heard.
Already, Robinson seems oddly clueless. He doesn’t seem to understand that we liberals have been “making stuff up” in some of our recent perfect examples. He doesn’t seem to have heard that the Justice Department supported Wilson’s account of the facts.
Was Robinson tracking the New York Times? Was he in the process of leaving no perfect example behind? Incredibly, he soon offered this:
ROBINSON: What started the whole thing? Slager pulled Scott over because he had a broken taillight on his aging Mercedes.We’re sorry, but that’s bad journalistic behavior. In that highlighted passage, Michael Brown has been restored as a perfect example.
Michael Brown was walking in the middle of the street. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. For three black men, these misdemeanors became capital offenses.
We don’t know what happened before Santana arrived to bear witness, but I have to assume that Scott might have given Slager lip or otherwise expressed his displeasure. And given subsequent events—eight shots fired at Scott’s back—I have to doubt that Slager initiated the encounter with an Officer Friendly approach.
According to Robinson, Brown was shot “for walking in the middle of the street,” for a “misdemeanor.” All the other facts in that case have again been disappeared.
The Blows, the Rosenthals and the Robinsons do this again and again. Dim bulbs that we’ve turned out to be, we liberals stand and cheer.
But uh-oh! Around the country, reams of voters can actually see what we're doing. They can see that we really are “making stuff up” as we make other “stuff” disappear.
Robinson seems to have feelings about this sort of case. We can understand that. we have feelings about the people who are dead all over the world because of the career-building things he happily did at one point.
Whatever! We’ll only say that Robinson’s judgment served him poorly in this piece, in which he does a fair amount of guessing.
“I have to doubt that Slager initiated the encounter with an Officer Friendly approach?” By the time this column appeared, the dash cam video showed that this was exactly what Slager had done.
That doesn’t change what happened later, of course. But will journalists like Robinson ever stop “imagining the narrative that might have occurred?” Will they ever stop saying they “have to doubt” the basic facts they don’t know yet?
Like the editors at the Times, Robinson restored a favorite tribal example. Around the country, this kind of conduct keeps convincing American voters that we liberals can’t be taken seriously.
In fairness, those voters have cause for reaching that judgment. We've invented and disappeared many facts in the past several years.
Robinson restored a perfect example, one we tribals love. As we read the end of his piece, a further thought came to mind:
When we “liberals” create perfect examples with which we construct an imagined world, other examples may get left out. Sadly for progressive interests, the voters will notice this too.
Tomorrow: Robinson mentions the data